July 24, 2002

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Dreyfus on the Internet: Hubert Dreyfus, philosopher, has written a monograph about the Net that is profound and off the mark.
Bluetooth Pro and Con: How do you want to go wireless? There's no simple answer yet.
Sham compromises: We're losing the Digital Rights Management battle
Keeping Telcos Simple, Stupid: How do you explain the telco mess?
Pocketful of Standards: A bluffer's guide.
Blogger Dead Pool: Who will be the first journalist fired for what s/he says in his/her blog?
The Anals of Marketing: Stupid, stupid marketing.
Walking the Walk: Automated integration: Boring but helpful.
Cool Tool: Multi renamer.
What I'm Playing: Jedi Outcast.
Internetcetera: News on the Net and off.
Eighth First Name Award: Google searching for first names.
Links: You suggest 'em, I run 'em.
Email: You write 'em, I run 'em.
Bogus contest: Tomorrow's Moral Monsters


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Dreyfus on the Internet

First let me say some positive stuff because I'm about to disagree with most of Hubert Dreyfus's attempt to deflate the Web in his book "On the Internet," in particular his assumption that we are still in an age of information scarcity, rather than information abundance.

Dreyfus is a professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley. He's the author of the influential and still-right What Computers Can't Do. His new book — actually, at 107 pages, it's more of a monograph — is a pleasure to read. Although Dreyfus is an academic philosopher, he doesn't get bogged down in either of the philosopher's diseases: the attempt to narrow one's claim to something safely defensible and the compulsion to dispel every possible critique with paragraphs that begin "One might claim..." No, Dreyfus writes like someone engaged with his topic and his readers.

There's more good to say. This is a deeply not stupid book. No surprise there, but it's worth saying. He understands that thought occurs within a history, and he has spent his life learning that history. And his emphasis on the importance of the body is such a relief! I even invited him to give the Founders Day talk at the college where I taught 20 years ago and got to spend a day with him. So, mark me down as a fan.

Now, here's why I think his book is wrong about almost all its important points...

* * *

Dreyfus seems to me to go wrong in two related ways. Sometimes he argues against a straw man. (Sorry, "straw person" is too much of a stretch.) He seems to think that the most extreme of the Extropians typify thinking about the Internet. And sometimes he begs the question — assumes what he's trying to prove — finding the Internet wanting when compared to the traditional values the Internet threatens/promises to overturn.

The book has the rhetorical form of debunking, although it's high-level debunkitude. Each of the four main chapters takes on some aspect of the Net and shows why it's not what it's cracked up to be.

The chapter on distance learning is a good example of Dreyfus arguing against a straw man. He carefully discusses the various phases of learning and shows that distance learning will never replace real world mentoring and apprenticeships. But it's hard to find people who believe that the Internet could entirely and loss-less-ly replace real world education, so the chapter isn't very compelling.

The first chapter — "The Hype about Hyperlinks" — is more interesting. Dreyfus wants to show that the Net by its nature is going to remain an information quagmire. He goes back to the theme of "What Computers Can't Do" to prove that attempts at AI solutions to this problem are doomed: lacking bodies, computers have to be fed impossibly large amounts of explicit information if they are to be able to make sense of even the simplest of situations. This is a profound point since it unravels an entire tradition of thinking that assumes that thought is held back by occurring in bodies.

But then why are we so happy with the way Google works? He correctly points out that with so much information around, Google only finds a small percentage of the relevant pages. He attributes to information retrieval pioneer Don Swanson the notion that we've fallen for "the fallacy of abundance." With so many pages to choose from, the search engine is bound to find some that are relevant to the query. The user doesn't see all the relevant pages the engine has ignored.

Dreyfus thinks this is a criticism of search engines. And it is if you're looking for a complete survey of all available materials because you're a graduate student or a lawyer. But most of us don't need everything. We couldn't handle everything. We just want enough. We are in an era of information abundance. The old model of scarcity doesn't hold, so what looks like a criticism is in fact a compliment. And, of course, there is an entire economic and political system built on the idea that information is hard to gather and can be held securely. Nope. Not any more. Dreyfus is talking across a chasm in values created by the Internet earthquake.

The same happens in the chapter on nihilism. Dreyfus is wondering if the anonymity of the Web leads to nihilism and despair. He approaches this by looking from Habermas' idea of the public sphere back to Kierkegaard who worried, in the middle of the 19th century, about the effect newspapers would have. Kierkegaard foresaw the development of a public in which every voice is equal and is equally uncommitted. People can jabber about what they want without having to take a real stand. Kierkegaard, Dreyfus says, surely would have seen the Internet as combining the worst of the press and the coffeehouse. "Thanks to hyperlinks," says Dreyfus, "meaningful differences have, indeed, been leveled. Relevance and significance have disappeared." Thus, the Internet leads to nihilism.

Worse, the Internet is breeding a new type of self; he cites Sherry Turkle's work on the emergence of selves that are "fluid, emergent, decentralized, multiplicious, flexible, and ever in process." Kierkegaard, Dreyfus tells us, would not have approved, for this describes the "aesthetic sphere," a degraded way of life superseded by the ethical sphere and then by the fulfillment of the self in "unconditional commitment."

Kierkegaard would surely argue that, while the Internet, like the public sphere and the press, does not prohibit unconditional commitments, in the end, it undermines them.

Oy veh, where to begin? Kierkegaard's hierarchy of the self was based on a Christian belief in the importance of faith, which for Kierkegaard meant committing oneself despite the irrationality of the faithful beliefs. The commitment was supreme. So, of course Kierkegaard would find the Turkle self to be frivolous. But, so what? Why is Kierkegaard's sense the right one? Dreyfus makes no argument. He doesn't even wave his hands vigorously. He finds Kierkegaard's views appealing and that's that. So, yes, the Internet does lead us away from a Kierkegaardian conception of the authentic self as requiring passionate and constant commitment.

But there are reasons to think that the situation has changed since Kierkegaard noticed that newspapers were forming publics and that everyone with a stupid idea felt free to pronounce it. Kierkegaard accurately anticipated a mass public. But the Web is a new type of public in which people retain their faces. From the top down, it may look like a faceless mass, but the view from our desktops is quite different.

Does the Internet promote nihilism? It may seem so because there are so many voices, so many opinions. Everyone with a computer can become an online columnist. But that view is deeply false for it looks at the Internet as a collection of writings, as a mob of opinions. That would lead to nihilism if the Internet weren't simultaneously — and more importantly — a web of people connected to one another. Balancing the multiplicity of voices is the reality of humans connecting and caring.

The fact that more of us care about more of us than ever before is our bulwark against nihilism.

By the way, by coincidence Tom Matrullo was writing about Kierkegaard as I was writing this review. Tom is always worth reading.

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Bluetooth Pro and Con

I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago where John Landry, ex-CTO of Lotus, and Dan Bricklin, founder of Visicalc and co-creator of the first spreadsheet, went at each other over Bluetooth. These are two very smart guys who disagree fundamentally.

I blogged about this foodfight and, like a pingpong ball in a room of mousetraps (micetrap?), set off a set of fervid and pellucid exchanges among some people who know way too much about these issues, including Glenn Fleishman and Bob Frankston (the other co-creator of the spreadsheet).

With my usual desire to be liked by everyone (even that f_cking bastard David Futrelle of the Washington Post), I ran their responses in my weblog and tried to convince each of them that he is my favoritist person on the planet. But now I want to try to sort it out for myself. (Please keep in mind that I am merely an infomediator here. I know nothing about these things myself.) So, here's the story as I understand it.

Bluetooth is a wireless standard created to enable very local devices to work together: your computer can talk to the printer, and your PDA can talk to your computer, and your fax machine can talk to your coffee maker if it feels like making prank calls. It's USB without the wires.

But Bluetooth wants to be more. With Bluetooth, you should be able to bring your laptop into an office where it's never been before and it discovers, without your even asking, what Bluetooth-enabled devices are there, and it works with them.

Who could argue with such a thing? You'd be surprised. The arguments seem to fall into a few clusters.

The first group of complaints is the least interesting. Bluetooth, it's claimed, is impractical. It costs too much and current Bluetooth devices don't play well together. The price argument will be settled by increasing the volume and decreasing the per unit costs. Bluetooth chips cost under $10 now and will likely drop to under $5 soon-ish. As for the devices not working together, the current "personal networks" do seem to have some problems. (See a recent article by Jim Krane, for example.) This is either because the standard is young or because it is terminally over-specified; I don't know which.

The second group of complaints says Bluetooth has been made obsolete, particularly by 802.11 (AKA "WiFi"). Here matters are murkier because of the mix of the theoretical, the practical and the futural.

On the theoretical side, the argument against Bluetooth rails at its basic process: a manufacturer has to apply to a central committee to receive authentication. This isn't the way the Internet works (generally). It slows things down. It inhibits innovation. As Jonathan Peterson writes:

The real problem with bluetooth is that it isn't an open transport standard that anyone can build on. You want to build an atomic clock wristwatch that acts as a timeserver to keep all your devices in sync (a cool idea if I say so myself)? Not only will your users have to dick around with it incessantly to convince everything to take time information from it, but the manufacturer will have to apply for certification to 7 Layers AG, you they won’t be able to sell the product until it has been approved.

How long would current WWW technologies have taken to mature if Tim Berners-Lee et al had to submit everything for ISO approval before moving forward with implementation?

On the other hand, the interactions of Bluetooth devices seem tricky enough that having a central, validating source seems reasonable. (Or does that just mean that Bluetooth is over-spec'ed?) As for the prices charged for the authentication service: I just don't know what's reasonable.

In any case, Glenn Fleishman makes the argument that there really is little difference between the certification processes for Bluetooth and 802.11 devices. If you want to call a device WiFi compatible, you have to join the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) for $25,000 per year. On the other hand, the two groups may feel different to participants/supplicants. I just don't know.

But the big argument against Bluetooth is that while the committees were arguing over it, another wireless standard arose: 802.11b and, soon, 802.11a. While Bluetooth was adopted grudgingly, the world has embraced 802.11 with a glee that is almost sexual. And 802.11 is much faster than Bluetooth: 11mbps vs. 720kbps. So, why do we need a second wireless standard? Why do I need to put two wireless networking chips into my devices?

One might as well ask why you need a specialized cable to hook up your monitor when just about everything else works via USB (or USB 2). Different strokes for different folks, and different protocols for different folks I'll call.

There are two big differences between Bluetooth and 802.11. First, 802.11 is a networking standard with a fair bit of overhead: You need a network base and have to do a lot of complex handshaking to get admitted onto the network—you've got to use TCP/IP or some other Ethernet protocol. That's acceptable for WiFi because it's assumed that you're going to be on the network for some extended session. But Bluetooth is designed for smaller bursts of data, not for a continuous network session. As a result, it requires less software and much less handshaking: Bluetooth ad hoc networks itself like a sumbitch (in theory). It "advertises" its presence to other Bluetooth devices in the area, sort of like waving its hand and yelling "Oooh, oooh, pick me! Pick me!" Yet, I am not convinced that avoiding the hurdles to connecting to a full-fledged network is really much of an advantage for Bluetooth; the limitations of not being on a proper network—e.g., a maximum of seven devices can be BlueToothed together —also have to be considered.

The second reason is the killer: Bluetooth is designed for very lower power consumption so that it can be included in mobile apps where battery life counts for a lot. Glenn Fleishman says, "Almost all WiFi devices, even those designed for small form factors, are designed to run 150 to 300 feet. This is part of WiFi design spec." Distance requires power. But couldn't you make a low-power, smaller range 802.11 chipset? Yes, possibly. In the future. Says Fleishman, a reformed "WiFi is God" advocate: "Yeah, yeah, and it's taken almost two years to fix the broken WEP [wireless equivalent privacy] encryption layer in WiFi, and we're still looking at maybe March 2003 for ratification and probably six months before the firmware updates for older devices roll out." (Glenn holds out the hope that we'll eventually have a single chipset that talks both Bluetooth and 802.11.)

So, short term it looks like Bluetooth is going to implant itself successfully in our offices and portable devices. WiFi we know is already in place as a de facto standard. Longer term, perhaps WiFi will edge down into the Bluetooth market, and Bluetooth will persevere where battery size and life matters above all; as computers become more pervasive (and invasive), that end of the market will grow in numbers as it drops in per unit cost.


Dan Bricklin on Bluetooth: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/archive/2002_06_01_archive.html#85210318

Bob Frankston on Bluetooth: http://www.satn.org/archive/2002_06_30_archive.html#85215692

Glenn Fleishman: http://80211b.weblogger.com/

Jonathan Peterson: http://www.way.nu/archives/000267.html#000267

Round up of links: http://www.etherchip.com/etherchiplinks.html

Kevin Marks' Guide to Magnitude

Kevin writes: "I know you have trouble with numbers, so here's a handy guide to relative speeds in orders of magnitude."

Bluetooth is 10 times faster than a 56k modem
USB is 10 times faster than Bluetooth
802.11b is as fast as USB
10baseT is as fast as USB
100baseT is 10 times faster than 10baseT
FireWire is 4 times faster than 100baseT and 40 times faster than USB
Gigabit Ethernet is 10 times faster than 100baseT

Thank you, Kevin.


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Sham compromises

David Isenberg recommends Grant Gross's coverage at Newsforge of the Commerce Department's Digital Rights Management meeting last Wednesday. This meeting is intended to help forge a compromise for protecting copyrighted works but the deck was entirely stacked against customers/users and Right to Listen advocates. Says Isenberg: "Reading his article seemed almost like being there . . . an excellent piece." Yup.

Here's a brief update from Grant, in an email:

During this workshop, the Commerce Department was just not interested in hearing from the public. So to get the point across that the public wasn't represented, the Free Software/Linux/fair use crowd almost had to shout and wave their hands.

Those tactics actually may have worked. Sources tell me that the Commerce Department is now asking around for suggestions on consumer advocates to include in a future workshop.

As for the EFF, Robin Gross tells me today that they've been invited to comment in writing, and the EFF is doing so.

Here's what I *think* happened: The Commerce Department just didn't comprehend that consumers might want to be part of this discussion about how to implement DRM. Groups like EFF just didn't fit the focus of this meeting, so Commerce set up this workshop with the goal of getting the IT people and the Hollywood people talking again, but made no provisions for the public to participate.

By the way, do you think "Right to Listen advocates" could catch on? It sounds better than "pro-piracy lobbyists."

Late updates:

1. More from Grant Gross on the opening up of the panel: http://newsforge.com/newsforge/02/07/21/1941202.shtml?tid=4

2. Senator Hollings proposes that the FCC institute a "broadcast flag" to protect digital TV without bothering to go through the legislative process: http://bpdg.blogs.eff.org/archives/000155.html#000155

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Keeping Telcos Simple, Stupid

I was about to run an attempt at explaining the telecommunications mess in words so simple that even a legislator could understand them, but David Isenberg's latest newsletter arrived today and he has written the best brief explanation I've read of what's going on technologically and economically. It's at: . Here are some snippets:

Let's not call the current overcapacity situation a "bandwidth glut." Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. The scarcity folks - the telephone companies (and others) whose business is based on the fact that communications capacity is scarce, therefore expensive - are controlling this "glut" dialog. Nobody talks about a glut of clean air or a glut of traffic-jam-free roads. No - to an end user it is great to have a lot of cheap network capacity.


ATM and SONET are not the only technologies that are becoming obsolete even as they're being deployed. There's DSL and MMDS and 3G and WAP and a whole lot more. Technology marches on. And it is not as if Telecom executives made the wrong decisions - mostly they made the best decisions they could at the time.

The debt movie is playing at the Global Crossing theatre and the WorldCom playhouse - but soon it will be playing at a telephone company near you. Verizon and SBC and BellSouth will not be immune ...


So if you hear that somebody is going to "enhance" the Internet - to make it more efficient, to Pay the Musicians, to Protect the Children, to thwart hackers, to enhance Homeland Security, to find Osama, or whatever - this is almost certainly propaganda from the powerful businesses that are threatened by the Internet. Remember that the Internet became the success it is today - and the threat that it is to existing telcos - because it is a Stupid Network, an end-to-end network.


I helped David Isenberg write a similar sort of story at NetParadox. And at that site you'll find links to "The Rise of the Stupid Network" and David Reed's work on the End-to-End network that are behind this simple, stupid re-telling.

Vergil Iliescu has inaugurated his blog with a reflection on the telecommunications story. Vergil once was a telecom guy and recalls being told explicitly: "We in Telecom must not be reduced to just carrying the bits - that will make us just a commodity!". (He also has some provocative thoughts about the nature of consciousness.)

Meanwhile, Kevin Marks has posted further comments. He has some great stuff there, although I insist that we're not disagreeing very much. The major point of disagreement is that he thinks that there's a good, solid business selling commoditized connectivity (a "stupid network") whereas NetParadox says that it's a more attractive business to sell services over a tuned network.

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Pocketful of Standards

Ed Nixon was prodded by my poking fun at an HTML validation site to point out that the Web Standards Project is up again. Its mission: to "fight for standards that reduce the cost of complexity of development while increasing the accessibility and long-term viability" of web sites. The standards they like include XML, CSS, XHTML, DOM and ECMAS. Here's a bluffer's guide to each:

XML: Smarter tagging of documents (and other types of information) so that computers can do more interesting things than just display them in the right font.

CSS: Define the look (and more) of document elements external to the document so they can be displayed in the right font ... and so those definitions can be applied - and updated - across multiple documents. Part of the conspiracy to turn authors into text monkeys.

XHTML: Anal-compulsive HTML. Disallows sloppy tagging habits so that the pages are more predictable to computers. No shirts, no end tags, no service.

DOM: A standard computer-eye view of the internal tree structure of a document so its elements can be found and understood in relation to one another. You never knew a simple document was that complex.

ECMAS: JavaScript removed from the vagaries and self-interest of the vendors and put into the hands of responsible adults.

If you'd like actual information, you can start with the Web Standards Projects' own list of links.

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Blogger Dead Pool

Any bets on who will be the first capital-J to be fired because of something she or he blogs?

The scenario is easy to predict in its general shape: A journalist writes something in her blog that the newspaper considers to be objectionable or unprofessional. Letters to the editor appear that say: "How can we trust this person to report the news fairly when we know that she holds such outrageous, insensitive, prejudiced beliefs? If she's a bigot on the Internet, how can we trust her not to be a bigot in your newspaper?" The journalist refuses to retract. The newspaper fires her.

Unfortunately, the early adopters of bloggery among capital-J's, who are some of my favorite and most respected bloggers, are the best candidates because the fact that they were early adopters indicates that they are unafraid of speaking their minds.

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The Anals of Marketing

I was talking with Dyke Hendrickson, a reporter and columnist at Mass High Tech, a weekly in Massachusetts about pastry making (just testing your alertness) and he raised the fact that apparently many authors are upset that Amazon is offering used copies of their books on the very pages that offer their books for sale. It's easy to see why: Given a choice of buying Small Pieces for $17.50 new or $11.00 used, you may opt for the used book and deprive me of my $3.75 royalty (well, $3.19 after my agents get their well-deserved cut).

I have thought long and hard about this and have a well-worked-out position that I believe argues irrefutably from first principles while also incorporating the relevant utilitarian and social-communitarian considerations. It argues the following to authors:

Tough shit.

Authors have never gotten paid by everybody who reads their books or else we'd shut down those dens of iniquity: libraries and used book stores. As a society, we want to encourage people to have access to ideas. So, yes, authors are going to lose some money they could have made if it were harder for people to find used books. But that's the nature of the business you're in. I.e., as I said, the fecal matter is sturdy and impervious. And the world is better for it.

Peterme reports that the Oxford English Dictionary is considering including the word "blog," which Peterme coined. But the OED can only accept printed pages as sources for word coinages.

How long do you give that rule before it's amended in a flurry of embarrassment? I presume it was originally meant to keep the OED out of arguments about oral origins: "I was the first to use the word 'magikal' with a K. It was in a shouting match I had in 1964." Now it just keeps the OED out of relevancy and accuracy.

HWM, a glossy magazine from Singapore for the hardware industry, surveys the field of new cell phones and opens its review of the Mitsubishi Trium Eclipse as follows:

Somewhat traditional in its design, the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS)-ready Mitsubishi Trium Eclipse is a dual band 26-color display phone that comes with built-in microphone for hands-free operation.

Gosh, a cell phone with a built-in microphone! What will they think of next? A toothbrush with a built-in handle for easy placement into a toothbrush holder?

Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk  

I'm all in favor of conversations 'n stuff, but sometimes the topic is just too damn boring. That's when automation starts looking like a glass of lemonade on 95-degree day. And it a central registry service, UCCnet, may enable automated collaboration (which I'd rather call "coordination") among very large retailers and their very large suppliers. According to an article in InfoWeek (Steve Konicki, July 1), we're talking about Procter & Gamble, Sears, Best Buy and other megacorps. They supposedly spend $40B a year in setting right transactions that have gone wrong, frequently because of mixups in product codes and inaccuracies in availability statements. To give you a sense of the scale: P&G makes 60,000 products. (I didn't know we had that many orifices to disinfect!) A recent report said that 30% of the info in the product bulletins retailers use to order from is inaccurate. (Raise your hand if you believe that.) The UCCnet registry will create a "single point of truth" for 62 retailers that spend over $400B a year. They hope that in in addition to smoothing the boring transactions of business, the system will also eventually enable only slightly less boring activities such as collaborative planning and inventory replenishment.

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

It's just a little utility, but there's nothing I like better.

It's called "multiren" (multiple rename) and that's what it does. If you have, say, a whole folder full of digital photos with names such as MSC000001.jpg, you can select any set of them and give them a name such as "Thanksgiving 2002 - 01.jpg," automatically numbered. In fact, you can do pretty complex string operations.

It's simple. It's free. It's from PC Magazine.



What I'm Playing

Star Wars: Jedi Outcast is a worthwhile straightforward first person shooter. The graphics are excellent and it's got a whole bunch of puzzles integrated into the missions, ranging from box-jumping (hint: look up the cheat code for no clipping) to vent-finding to code-entering. Pretty entertaining, although sometimes the puzzles have been obscure enough that it was more fun to look up the answers in the excellent walkthrough at Epigamer.


According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, "the dramatic growth in online news consumption has ebbed, as increases in overall Internet penetration have slowed." (As if slow penetration were a bad thing.) Their survey reports that 25% of Americans go online for news at least three times a week, up from 23% in 2000. For the under-30s, though, online news is second only to local TV news (= sports, weather and murder). 32% regularly watch one of the nightly network news broadcasts and just 41% say they read a paper the day before, down from 47% in 2000. Meanwhile, only 31% of those over 65 say they feel overloaded with information, down from 41% two years ago. However, 27% were hunched in a corner, gibbering and chewing on their red-tipped fingers, trying vainly to hide from the unceasing bad news blaring from the TV, radio and newspapers.

The survey also shows that Americans just don't give a crap about any international news except for terrorism and the Mideast. For example, 6% paid very close attention to the failed coup in Venezuela despite its comic opera elements. Only 30% could identify Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, with another 54% identifying him as that nasty pharmacist who made jokes when filling their Viagra prescription.

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Eighth First Name Award

David Gallagher has written a very amusing article about his attempt to get his full name moved up Google's hit list, a challenge complicated by the fact that there was a teen actor named "David Gallagher" ahead of him in the listings. At the end of the article, he gives himself a new challenge: Move himself up the list when you search just for his first name.

I had never searched Google for "David" but, guess what? I'm Number 8, baby! Woohoo! I am introducing a new award for myself:

TopTen First Names at Google award I've given to myself.

Feel free to copy and reuse the award. But, remember, it's the honor system, so cheating will be ignored.

By the way, David Gallagher says that there's some "back story" to his article. He also has an entry about the Making Of his piece on Mahir "I Kiss You" Cagri that ran in the NY Times. His blog has lots of pictures, too, including one of a handlettered sign advertising "Waterbaloons already filled - 10 cents" — it could be a New Yorker cartoon if it weren't already a photograph.

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Gary Unblinking Stock has two pointers for us. First, there's a list of philosophical humor. I'm laughing. I think.

Second, Gary lets us know that the mnftiu book, Get Your War On, is coming soon. All profits go to landmine clearance efforts in Afghanistan. (Here's the latest Get Your War On comic strip.)

The Valley of the Geeks has some ads-we'd-like-to-see for well-known companies.

The Chronicle of Higher Education raises the musical question "Do libraries need books?"

Dotster, which has been my favorite place to register domain names, is circulating a letter to all its users asking for to tell ICANN that we don't like Verisign's proposal for the "secondary domain market." As far as I can tell from this, Verisign is proposing that SnapNames be the only authorized provider of the "Domain Name Wait Listing Service" that lets a user grab an existing name as soon as it becomes available. So, if I want "www.amazon.com," I can pay a service a subscription fee so that if Amazon forgets to renew its registration of "www.amazon.com" it goes to me. Verisign — the owner of Network Solutions, which is the monopoly ICANN was established to break up — apparently would be the only one entitled to offer this service, which is currently widely available on the Net. It would charge $24/year whether or not the name came available, whereas other services charge less and only charge if the user succeeds in getting the name.

The Verisign proposal does address a real problem. As it stands, if two people register for "www.amazon.com" with different services, and Jeff Bezos forgets to put "Renew domain name" in his Palm Pilot, which of the two wins? There's no rational answer to this. But giving Verisign a monopoly on this service seems like a really bad idea.

You can register your opinion at ICANN by the end of July. And you can sign the online petition against the proposal.

Euan Semple (who is moving The Obvious weblog to http://www.theobviousblog.net/blog/) writes

I thought of you as soon as I saw this.

Paragraphs that begin that way almost always end badly, as does the answer to the question "Do you know what Hollywood actor you remind me of?" Nevertheless, I assume this street guide to sign language reminded Euan of me because of the forgiveness gesture I have initiated, trademarked, copyrighted, legally adopted and cryogenically frozen.

David Isenberg's Smart Letters continue to be very smart. If you are interested in the telecommunications industry, these are great resources. And if you're not interested in telecom, then you're not interested in the fate of the Internet.

The latest two SMART letters:

The New Cisco Kid — SMART Letter #72 is at http://isen.com/archives/020611.html
Buy as Many Nines as You Need — SMART Letter #73 is at http://isen.com/archives/020626.html

Jorunn Danielsen has translated Small Pieces for Kids into Norwegian. http://vitsen.agane.com/

Warchalkers mark, in chalk, areas that have free wireless (WiFi) connectivity. A very cool idea. http://www.blackbeltjones.com/warchalking//

Turbulent Velvet has a fabulous piece on pseudonymity that provides a context to the modern phenomenon by looking at pseudonymity in 18th century newspapers. Fascinating and, of course, directly relevant to what's going on with weblogs.

It reminds me of Dan Bricklin's terrific piece on the ways in which 18th Century pamphlets were similar to today's home pages. Dan wrote this before weblogs were common so it is even more relevant today since weblogs are what home pages were supposed to be.

Kevin Marks points us to a BBC piece about Afghan women blogging their way back into the daylight, and Halley reruns a related blog entry. The BBC piece is one of those things that makes you think this Internet stuff might actually make a difference.

Graeme Thickins points us to a Salon review (By Andrew Leonard) of a book — Ruling the Root by Milton Mueller — about the way in which the special interests that control ICANN control the DNS and thus inhibit free speech. The review makes it sound as if the regrettable advantage the incumbent brands have means that the Internet is doomed. To me, the most alarming point in the review is:

"With the emergence of domain name-trademark conflicts, the WHOIS protocol took on a new function," writes Mueller. "It became a surveillance tool for intellectual property holders...Copyright interests now view expanded WHOIS functionality as a way to identify and serve process upon the owners of allegedly infringing Web sites"

Sounds like a must-read.

And while we're worrying about the fate of Net freedom, Eric Norlin reminds us to pay attention to Digital Identity and the Digital ID World Conference, October 9-11.

Ryan Ireland wants to start a group read of the book Empire by Hardt and Negri. If you're interested, head on over.

Michael O'Connor Clarke links to a very funny database of chat quotes. Be sure to see what Michael selects as his favorite. (Kudos to Michael for having the least visible permalink on the Web. Runner up: Eric Raymond.)

If you are confused about Slashdot but are ashamed to admit it, here's an interview with the site's founder that will explain it all to you in the privacy of your own bedroom.

Jeneane points us the Greenpeace weblog, as voice-y as you'd expect.

An anonymous source has forwarded to me a PDF of a pay-for-download article — "Can You See the Real Me? Activation and Expression of the 'True Self' on the Internet" in Journal of Social Issues (vol. 58, no. 1, pp. 33-48), by John A. Bargh, Katelyn Y.A. McKenna and Grainne M. Fitzimmons of NYU.

The researchers' begin with Carl Rogers belief that people often feel that elements of who they are don't surface in face-to-face interactions. Their hypothesis is that the anonymity of Internet encounters enables those elements to surface. They then did a set of experiments that confirmed this. Further, "features of Internet interaction facilitate the projection onto the partner of idealized qualities." While this sounds to the naive (= me) like a Bad Thing, in fact:

these are precisely those features that previous research has determined to be critical for the formation of close, intimate relations: Internet communication enables self-disclosure because of its relatively anonymous nature ... and it fosters idealization of the other in the absence of information to the contrary...

Note that this study looks at anonymous interactions, not at long-term relationships built up through email and weblogs.

Normally, I wouldn't pay much mind to this type of research, but since it confirms my prejudices, I'm suddenly all in favor of it.

You can find the abstract here. But you'll have to pay to get the article. So, here we have a journal that undoubtedly sees its mission as filtering and distributing serious and important research that in fact now is in the access-prevention business. It sucks no less for being typical.

Jon Schull is visualizing blogthreads. To him they might look something like this:

Jon has a follow up entry here.

BTW, don't forget the discussion of Shelley's ThreadNeedle project at QuickTopic. It's how we're going to get honest-to-object blogthreads.

Jonathan Schull also has an excellent response to Joe Gregario's "cogent and pithy" blog entry on Google and Heisenberg. Joe argues:

The web needs to change to accommodate Google. Link, link to, be authoritative on a subject, keep current and offer information others want and need and you'll succeed in Google's eyes. Let page-rank stand as the carrot and the stick of good web behavior.

Jon, correctly guessing that I'll be drawn to his coinage "linktoitiveness" the way an Atlantic City mayor is drawn to a hotel room with a suitcase of money on the bed and a two-way mirror on the wall, suggests that being linked-to is not the only mark of page quality. We know empirically that it's a damn successful heuristic, but we also know that the system can be gamed and that the most popular kids aren't the only ones you ever want to eat lunch with.

On the other hand, we could also say that Google isn't trying to find the most worthy pages for us, just the ones we're most likely looking for. The search for worthiness is best accomplished through other means, i.e., give up.

Anyway, it's a really tasty can o' worms that Joe and Jon have opened up.

Dan Gillmor attended a seminar at Harvard on Internet law and blogged his notes. But Dan's notes are better written than the final drafts of the rest of us. And his notes on Lawrence Lessig's session on exactly how we can — and will, according to Lessig — lose what's most important about the Internet are a superb critical summary of Lessig's position. Read it and weep. Or, better, read it and fight.

Have we (well, S. Lamb) found the most pointless use of the Google API? It's a Google mirror in case Google is running too slowly. But, you have to go there to understand...

Neil Crofts has started a site called http://www.authenticbusiness.co.uk/ which aims to encourage businesses to be, well, authentic.

In the right-hand column of my weblog you'll see a little face drawn in blue. That's my "blogchalk," an attempt to provide some semi-standard metadata so we can search for weblogs more precisely. The metadata goes like this:

Google! DayPop! This is my blogchalk: English, United States, Boston, Brookline, David, Male, 51-55!

There are complete instructions on how to enter your own blogchalk here.

Thanks, Steve Himmer, for your improvement on the citizen-snoop TIPS campaign.

One suggestion for a link on Steve's RATS page: "How to Tell an Arab." America needs to know!

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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

The always-provocative Arnold Kling responds to my despairing comments about Tim Berners-Lee's "semantic web":

Methinks that the decentralized solution of blogs works better than a semantic web see: http://www.corante.com/bottomline/articles/20020621-875.shtml

Himthinks the way methinks, too.

Norman Jenson of OneGoodMove writes:

I just saw your post on CYC and the link to Andy Clarke's book "Being There." I would agree with your comments; it was an eye opener for me as well. Since you enjoyed Clarke's book so much let me recommend Flesh and Machines - How Robots Will Change Us by Rodney Brooks, on the off chance you haven't read it yet. I read this several months ago and made a few comments about it on my site. Clarke also has a new book titled Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosphy of Cognitive Science that is quite good.

I'm a fan of Brooks, although I like his critique of AI ("The world is the model") more than what I've read of his positive comments about the nature of the mind. But I should read more before Issuing Pronouncements ... not that ignorance has ever stopped me.

But how about if for once one of you wrote in to take a book *off* my plate? "Hey, David, here's a book people say you should read but you don't have to."

Someone — I've lost her/his name — points out that my "Forgive me" gesture has been done already.

I recall this being discussed some years back—in SF Chronicle? Jon Carroll? & the consensus was that we already have such a gesture, uniformly understood, namely administering a smart slap to the side of the head.

Unfortunately I keep forgetting to use it at the relevant moments

Ah, but the "D'oh!" gesture says "I'm dumb" not "Please forgive me." The two statements may bear a close relationship, but they are not the same, just as "I'd rather not" and "Go to Hell" are related but not identical.

Steve Yost writes with regard to The Gesture:

I wonder if it's best made clear that your palm should be facing away from you — at least that's the way I see it, as a sort of blessing/peace sign. Palm toward you looks too much like its negative to catch on as obviously benevolent.

Actually, I initially posted a photo showing the back of my hand, but it just lacked the impact of the full frontal. I have assumed that the proper gesture is palm toward the gesturer, with a quick upwards thrust. But I claim no special authority on the matter.

Alex Golub, a philosophical anthropology grad student whose site I admire, writes:

I thought your article about the Torah et. all was interesting. Except one thing - you left out the Talmud! Kinda an important part of our heritage, eh ;?) Lots of facile analogies have been made to postmodern stylistics, the web, and the Talmud. It seems like here we've created a field of possibility where this sort of thing could get the attention and analysis it deserves. FYI check out www.baraita.net for someone more erudite in this sort of thing. Also, as a Jewish Heideggerian you may be interested in Anything By Emmanuel Levinas.

I'd actually made a made a backhand reference to the Talmud by talking about the hyperlinked nature of Jewish scholarship. (There's also "The Talmud and the Internet," a brief book that is still padded, although I'm sure the author thought that story of his grandmother was an essential part of his topic.) I've read a little Levinas and don't remember Anything.

Vergil Iliescu responds to a link to a site with philosophical jokes on it:

My favourite philosophical joke is this one (though it may be well known to philosophers...?)

"I will always remember the day Rene Descartes died. We had just finished a wonderful meal and were sitting around plotting our next move over coffee. The waitress came up and asked, "More Coffee?" Descartes replied, "I think not." And just disappeared right before my eyes."

Here's a joke that was considered oh so funny when I was in grad school:

A logic professor spends 40 minutes chalking a proof on the board. He's very near the end when he writes a step and says "And that, of course, is self-evident." A student calls out, "Are you sure?" The logic professor leaves the classroom and comes back 30 minutes later.

"Yes," he says.

Oh ho ho ho. That killed at the American Philosophical Association smoker!

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Bogus contest: Tomorrow's Moral Monsters

150 years ago, owning African slaves was considered reasonable in this country. A hundred years ago, having children work in factories was considered reasonable. Fifty years ago, keeping women out of the workforce (unless typewriters or sewing machines were involved) was considered reasonable.

So, what do we currently do that will cause our grandchildren to shake their heads and say "How could sweet old Grandma and Grandpa believe ..."?

For example:




The lessening of moral concern and sympathy the further away the object of concern and sympathy is.


Sexual attraction based on physical characteristics


The making of value judgments about people based on any quantifiable characteristic

You don't have to agree with 'em. You just have to come up with your own. (The winner will be exempt from the Nuremburg-style trials held 50-75 years from now to punish violators of these future crimes.

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